Potsdam Central still working on reopening plans, which are due to state July 31
BY MATT LINDSEY
North Country This Week
POTSDAM -- Potsdam Central School Superintendent Joann Chambers said reopening plans are still being refined and the district must submit their proposal to the state by Friday, July 31.
Chambers updated the school board on the district’s plan for reopening this fall at a meeting last night.“Once we got the guidance (from the state) then we really focused on how could we adhere to the guidance and put together an instructional plan that met particularly the social distancing guidelines (which) presented the biggest challenge,” she said.
The school surveyed parents to see how many would opt to not send their child to school. This allowed school officials to make plans for social distancing and how to better utilize its space.
Rough figures indicated that about 70-80% of elementary students would be attending school in-person and around 40% at the middle and high school levels.
Pre-K and kindergarten classes will be four days a week, but will be half days. Kindergarten used to be a full-day program but due to staffing and space issues, it will be a half-day program this year.
In grades 1-5, parents have the choice for all remote learning, or to send their child to school Monday through Friday and learn remotely on a Friday.
For sixth through eighth grade students, parents can choose remote learning for their child, or send their child to school two days a week with three days being remote learning days.
Students in grades 9-12 will engage in in-person learning for two consecutive days each week (Monday/Tuesday or Wednesday/ Thursday), and in at-home online learning the other three days.
“There is more space and there are more staff at the elementary school,” Chambers said. “It will not be easy to have all students in the building four days a week, but Principal Gray worked hard to develop a plan to do so as we knew it would be very challenging for working parents to have to find childcare for three days a week.”
Chambers said local superintendents have been discussing best practices for health screening of staff and students. She said that ideally everyone would have their temperatures taken before they enter the building.
She said the logistics are still being worked out and that it is difficult to find a way to test so many people arriving at the school at the same time.
Chambers said St. Lawrence County Board of Health President Dr. Andrew Williams and St. Lawrence County Public Health Director Dana McGuire agreed there was no foolproof method. They said such issues at bottlenecking of people will likely take place, and warned that a temp check may be inaccurate when colder weather sets in.
Chambers was asked by a board member if teachers could do temp checks inside their classrooms when there are far fewer students in an area.
The superintendent said that it was possible. At first, Chambers said the cost of purchasing that many thermometers might be too high. But, she quickly moved on to say that some teachers may not want to take on health-related tasks as part of their job duties.
“Our labor unions to this point have been very cooperative, but we may reach a point where they say really I’m a teacher … you know that’s not really my responsibility, the health screening of a student is beyond the scope of my work,” Chambers said.
A different board member expressed concern about parents taking temperatures. He told Chambers about a $1,300 machine he had researched that can screen temps by waving your hand at it.
Chambers was worried if the machine may have facial recognition and privacy issues. She also said the school plans to have several entrances to limit bottlenecking, and that purchasing one for each entrance would be fairly costly.
Two board members were worried about the mask mandate.
“All you have to do is go to Walmart,” one unidentified board member said. “You have people who don’t believe that this is an issue. “They are not willing to wear masks, they’re not willing to social distance, they are not willing to do anything.”
Later in the meeting, school board president James Hubbard again brought concerns over parents not believing in masks and how that would be handled.
Chambers said the school would not get into a disciplinary battle with students and parents over masks. The school has options for those who do not want to wear facemasks, which is to learn remotely.
The only exception would be for some special needs students or a medical excuse from a physician.
“If we don’t want our schools to be shut down, if we don't want classes quarantined, this is how you do it (wearing masks),” Chambers said.
Chambers noted there would be mask-wearing breaks during the day for students.
She said many parents have indicated they plan to transport their child to school instead of having them ride the bus.
This will help with keeping children separated on the bus, but could create a major traffic jam. For those who have dropped their kids off in the morning at PCS prior to the pandemic, they know traffic was a nightmare already on busy days.
“If you get stuck behind somebody who is trying to turn left onto Route 11 in the morning, forget about it, you could sit there 10 minutes, said board member Jason Fiske.
Ideas tossed around included asking the Department of Transportation if they have any solutions or if people could be used to direct traffic.
Social distancing will be practiced on the bus to the extent possible. Siblings will be seated together on buses. Students who get on the bus first will be seated in the back, so that it limits the number of people walking by each other.
Masks will be required on the bus as well.
Bus drivers will clean high-touch areas of the bus after each run, and do a deep clean each day, Chambers said.
PPE, Cleaning Protocol
The district must offer personal protective equipment (PPE) to all students and staff. Students can wear their own cloth covering, but masks will be available for those who do not have one.
The school has also secured a quantity of masks, gloves, face-shields and gowns for situations where a teacher may work with a special needs student who needs assistance using the restroom.
The school plans to install hand sanitizer stations outside of each classroom and students will be asked to wash their hands for at least 30 seconds before eating lunch.
A deep clean of the school will take place every single night, Chambers said. She said it is anticipated that the school may need to hire more cleaners.